News: Wausau City Pages uncovers the real Hipstamatic backstory?

Hipstamatic camera iPhone

UPDATED: Now includes a PDF of the original City Pages article, posted with permission.

Since its release, there has been a lot of speculation about the backstory of Hipstamatic. At one point, I was even considering taking the trip up to Merrill, Wisconsin to check it out — to put the rumors to rest.

The latest issue of City Pages, an alternative weekly newspaper in Wausau, Wisconsin, features a story about hometown hero and one of Hipstamatic’s creators Ryan Dorshorst. City Pages’ Deputy Editor Rick LaFrombois, who wrote the story, has done the legwork for all of us and dug pretty deep into the Hipstamatic backstory. What he found indicates that the Hipstamatic backstory may be “a myth.”

The Hipstamatic backstory is lore in the Hipsta community. The story starts in North Central Wisconsin in 1982 where brothers Bruce and Winston Dorbowski came up with an idea for bringing photography to the masses cheaply. Inspired by an old Russian plastic camera and the Kodak Instamatic, they worked from their small riverfront cabin, developing and hand-producing the all-plastic cameras which they called Hipstamatic.

In 1984, Bruce and Winston were supposedly killed by a drunk driver on their way home from signing a lease on a new building that would have been their manufacturing plant. The Hipstamatic was never mass produced.

The City Pages story, “The little hipster who could” is an excellent piece on Wausau native Ryan Dorshorst, whose Hipstamatic was recently named iPhone “App of the Year” by Apple. That achievement is a big story in Wausau. Much of the City Pages story is an interview with Dorshorst, his background and his life since leaving the city.

However, in doing his research on the app’s famous backstory, LaFrombois discovered “the neatly packaged backstory appears to be a myth.” It’s mentioned in a couple of paragraphs in the story.

LaFrombois writes:

Nothing checks out. There’s no record of a Richard Dorbowski, or his inventor brothers for that matter, ever existing. Richard did not graduate from Merrill High School in 1975 as his Facebook page professes, nor did he graduate UW-River Falls in 1980. He is not the chief comptroller of Neenah Paper — a call to the company revealed that employees there never heard of the guy. There is no death certificate for Bruce or Winston Dorbowski in Lincoln or Marathon counties where they supposedly were traveling when they were killed by a drunken driver. There also are no Dorbowskis currently registered to vote anywhere in the state of Wisconsin.

Even some faraway Hipsta-fans question whether it’s true. One Australian blogger concluded, after finding little online evidence to back up the story, that it is indeed a fallacy. Marie Peters’ blog went on to say that the boys went too far with their story. Despite that, she still loves the app and will continue buying all the new goodies to come. She has since posted new iPhone photos shot using the Hipstamatic app.

A tip-off could be that one of Ryan Dorshorst’s favorite movies is The Big Lebowski. Dorshorst, Lebowski, Dorbowski….

Regardless of the veracity of their backstory (or should it be called a marketing ploy?), the application Dorshorst and Buick released in December 2009 has since exploded on the scene.

Deputy Editor Rick LaFrombois’ complete story on Ryan Dorshorst appears in the December 22, 2010 edition of Wausau City Pages. Unfortunately, this weekly paper and this story are not available online until now.

Life in LoFi has been given permission to post a PDF of the original article. Click here to download “The little hipsta who could” by Rick LaFrombois (Courtesy of Wausau City Pages, 12/22/10 edition). PDF, 1.1 MB

Many — not all — in the iPhoneography community loved the backstory, this blog included. It’s a great, well fleshed out backstory with depth, complete with Facebook and LinkedIn profiles for Richard Dorbowski.

Ryan, along with fellow Wisconsinite Lucas Buick, created an app that changed iPhone photography. The lens and film filters create effects that are unmatched by any other photo app. Hipstamatic redefined the iPhone camera app user interface, sparking a flood of skinned clones. Synthetic and Hipstamatic pushed the envelope and help redefine what is possible with in-app purchases.

Regardless of the truth of the story, it’s an absolutely brilliant piece of viral marketing. At a time when nearly all photo apps were barely profitable, the story of the two brothers from Wisconsin added “history” and drama to the app. The story of the 157 plastic cameras supposedly produced gave Hipstamatic lovers a Holy Grail to Google and search for on eBay over the year. Especially in the beginning, it gave us more to talk about than just the app.

This doesn’t effect my support of the app on the blog. With or without the backstory, I’ve always thought Hipstamatic is a great app and one of the first I recommend to new iPhoneographers. But what this information does is puts to rest a lot of speculation and gives the community something new to talk about for the next year.

Hipstamatic news is something we cover often on Life In LoFi, including all the latest on updates and HipstaPaks. Check out all the news by clicking here.



About Marty Yawnick 1830 Articles
Marty is a self-employed graphic designer in the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex. He is an avid Rangers baseball, Chicago Cubs, Packers and Highbury Arsenal fan. In addition to capturing random moments with whatever camera is close by (usually his iPhone), his other interests include coffee, Pink Floyd, film, music, and traveling in seats 5E and 5F with his fiancé.
  • Daniel Berman

    I like the backstory a whole lot more than the app – I actually love stuff like this, hats off to the hipsta creators for going as far as they did with the "myth" – who cares if it's true? Oceanic Flight 815 never took off from Sydney en route to LA either 😉

  • Daniel Berman

    As an addendum – is there a human on the planet who bought the app because of the backstory? This isn't fiction masquerading as reality, a false memoir parading as truth, it's…an app.

  • I wonder why they felt the creaters of hipstamatic needed to create an elaborate and tragic back story to sell their product. why couldn't they just sell the product for what it is, and what it does? I love hipstamatic and is basically my go-to camera app! I would have bought hipstamatic and loved it just the same if they marketed it for what it is.

    With the backstory now proven a "myth", I don't like them less, and I will continue to buy their add-on's but I can't help but equate their "myth" to someone who tells a sympathy story to get you to give them money…say, a con artist…

  • Thanks for ruining x-mas Marty! HAHA!

  • Graham

    Fact is, people love to be told stories. And this back story, true or not, made me feel a connection to the app and the fictional (?) creators of the original camera. Like I was somehow using an extension of what they had hoped to accomplish.

    I couldn't care less if it was made up or not. It got me using my iPhone camera as a serious tool.

    Well played Synthetic.

  • Next thing you'll tell me unicorns aren't real.

    I never believed that story for a second. It just did no add up. I've always thought those guys were marketing geniuses, coming up with that fairy-tale.

    I doubt this news will affect sales of the app at all.

    Thanks for reporting on this Marty.

  • Like Knox, I never took the story for anything other than fiction. But it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the app one bit.

  • I thought it was obvious from the name, really. Hipster-matic? In 1970s Wisconsin? Really?

  • Stuart

    Like others, I never ever even considered that the story was ever really REALLY intended to be believed. Just a fun myth.

  • Dorbowski abides!

  • Benjamin Keeling Vic

    That's hilarious.

    I like audacious stuff like that.

  • Anthony

    I had taken about a month worth of pictures before I even heard there was a backstory. I took about another 2-3 weeks worth before I stumbled across it being a myth. I didn’t care either way.

  • I’m fascinated that I’d missed this piece re: “The Hipsta Myth” when you first posted it in Dec.

    I suddenly like Hipstamatic all that much more as I realize that the founders bullshitted the entire backstory. Genius.

Pin It on Pinterest